The Patriots were 7-3 before Gronkowski was injured then went 4-1 without him. He returned for the regular-season finale, a 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins in which he caught a touchdown pass. But he played only 25 of the Patriots’ 80 offensive snaps in that game.
“We’ve played a bunch of games now, we’ve never really been fully healthy yet and obviously now won’t be,” Brady said Monday during his regular weekly appearance on WEEI radio. “But you know what? We’ve still got a very good team.”
The Patriots also played without running back Danny Woodhead after he hurt his thumb while running with the ball on their first offensive play. Shane Vereen stepped in and scored three touchdowns — two on receptions and one on a run.
“That’s a huge credit to our coaching staff and Tom as well, but that’s what’s expected of us,” said Vereen, who had 124 total yards — 41 on seven rushes and 83 on five receptions. “When someone goes down, you’re expected to step in and do your job.”
Woodhead returned to the sidelines but never got back in the game, although coach Bill Belichick said Monday he could have played.
“Danny was examined. He was back on the sideline for the remainder of the game,” Belichick said. “Had we needed to use him, he would have been available to go back in there. Now that we’re into a new week, we’ll readdress the whole situation, try to get a good feel for what he would and wouldn’t be able to do and how functional he would be doing it.”
Woodhead has been effective in a limited role. During the regular season, he had 301 yards and four touchdowns on 76 carries and 446 yards and three touchdowns on 40 receptions.
But Gronkowski is the Patriots’ most important offensive player after Brady. He was hampered by a high left ankle sprain in last year’s Super Bowl and made just two catches in the Patriots’ 21-17 loss to the New York Giants.